Are You a Thankful Person?

Nov 25, 2015 | Erik Raymond



Here in the US we have the privilege of celebrating Thanksgiving this week. There may be 5 billion things that we could be thankful for at any moment; and truthfully we are probably aware of less than 5. The Christian is to always be aware of and deeply affected by at least one: the gospel of Christ.

The Scriptures teach that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). This is a staggering fact. He, the unchanging, ever-perfect, always good God–gives gifts to imperfect, weak, needy people.

Why does he do it? Well, one could rightly say, it is because he has abundance and we are needy. This is true. God needs nothing and we need everything. However, his giving is more than a cold, mechanical, divine donation. God gives because God loves. He loves us. And, his giving is the overflow of his love in sharing himself and his creation with us.


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A Thanksgiving Prayer

Nov 24, 2015 | Erik Raymond

As we in the US prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, this prayer from Valley of Vision will doubtlessly bless you:

O My God,

Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

I bless thee for body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;

I bless thee for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness;

I bless thee for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

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How Church Squabbles Hinder Gospel Work

Nov 23, 2015 | Erik Raymond


Imagine the scene with me. It’s the first century in the city of Philippi. The church is abuzz because the expected correspondence from the Apostle Paul is said to have arrived. Everyone presses into the room that they meet in for prayer, preaching and the Lord’s Table. One of the elders begins reading it and they are all encouraged that the opening words indicate the fondness of the apostle not just for the elders and deacons but also all of the church. He continues to read of Paul’s joy and longing for them. He talks about the centrality of the gospel and the necessity of humility. Everyone is encouraged and strengthened.

Then the record skips. As the letter is nearly its close we read this:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

Paul just called out two women by name and told them to agree in the Lord (literally be of the same mind). It is as if, through his letter, he puts an arm around Euodia and the other arm around Syntyche and says, “work it out”. He even calls on others to help them in this (Phil 4:3). We see something of the importance of this in how Paul describes them as fellow workers in the gospel. It is difficult to miss the impact of these words when we imagine this group of believers, pressed into a room together, fully aware of the conflict between these two respected servants.

One of the reasons why this needed to be worked out is its negative impact on the advancement of the gospel. Think about why this is important. Let’s suppose this is your church and you have two respected women not talking or at least not agreeing together. You are talking to a neighbor about the gospel. You explain to them that fact that the Bible teaches that sin has affected all of our relationships. In the first place we are separated from God. And because of this, we have a fractured relationship with others. But, God, being rich and mercy and because of his great love, has sent Jesus to live the life we could and would not live. He died for our sins and rose again on the third day. He reconciles our relationship to God and he brings reconciliation in our relationships with others. You go on to say that you gather each Sunday morning with a group of other people from the community who believe these things and do their best to practice them also. You invite them to come and hear the Bible read and preached and to just observe the way Christians treat one another.

Then, they surprise you and come! When you walk them around they notice that there are a group of people on one side of the room giving dirty looks and obviously avoiding the group of people on the other side of the room. After witnessing a few awkward exchanges your friend asks you, “What’s going on over there?” You say, “Oh, that’s just Flo and Salley. They don’t really get along.” Your friend would answer, “But, I thought you said you guys were about forgiveness and peace?” You smile awkwardly, “Yes, we are; most of the time. This is just…different.” They sigh and say, “I see.”

When we let peripheral issues rise to the place of prominence then we have displaced the gospel. Instead of embracing the humility to be of the same mind (Phil. 2:2-4) they desire to put themselves first. Instead of applying the gospel to every situation they selectively apply it how they want to. We have to see that when it comes to mission these secondary squabbles are a real problem. It is like a nail in the tire of mission; it deflates the gospel and slows down its progress.

However, most people who are being selfish don’t see it this way. They see their issue as the issue. They have a real hard time seeing the prominence of the gospel. They refuse to apply it but would rather just simmer and boil. They forget that the gospel is not just the way in but the way on. It is not just what gives us life but it must shape our life. Paul’s main point in this letter is that the Christians must conduct their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27). In order to do this they must apply the gospel. When Paul calls out these two women and tells them to work it out he makes his point. Would that our churches would hear it loud and clear.


Image from Shutterstock

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Do You Trust Yourself Too Much?

Nov 20, 2015 | Erik Raymond

I trust myself. A lot. This occurred to me afresh awhile back while I was out running. As I prepared to cross the street, in a familiar neighborhood, I surprised myself by not even looking to see if there was a car coming. This is because, as I reasoned to myself, I would hear a car coming if it was nearby.

We can debate the wisdom of this type of road safety skills (and I’ll probably join you in saying it’s unwise). However, it is illustrative of the commonly experienced bigger truth that we do trust ourselves. We have to. We make quick decisions based upon quick glances from our eyes. We answer questions quickly and confidently. We anticipate and react. And, by in large, we are pretty good with our ability to make these decisions.

This is why a passage like Proverbs 28.26 is so repulsive to our self-sufficiency and personal goodness:

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)
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Using Variation and Surprise in Preaching

Nov 19, 2015 | Erik Raymond


Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students is a favorite book of mine. The 19th Century Baptist preacher says things in such a way that he seems to bring home the point in a fresh way each time.

I’ve recently been thinking about not just what we say when we preach but how we say it. In this excerpt from Lectures to My Students Spurgeon hits on two often neglected tools in the preacher’s homiletical tool belt: variation and surprise.

Preachers often fall into the trap of saying the same thing over and over again. We repeat our canned phrases when appropriate. There is nothing wrong with what we are saying but it is just not as helpful as it can be. It would seem that the craft of preaching should demand some degree of thoughtfulness.

There is a great deal of force in that for winning attention. Do not say what everybody expected you would say. Keep your sentences out of ruts. If you have already said, “Salvation is all of grace” do not always add, “and not by human merit.,” but vary it and say, “Salvation is all of grace; self- righteousness has not a corner to hide its head in.”

I fear I cannot recall one of Mr. Taylor’s sentences so as to do it justice, but it was something like this: “Some of you make no advance in the divine life, because you go forward a little way and then you float back again: just like a vessel on a tidal river which goes down with the stream just far enough to be carried back again on the return tide. So you make good progress for a while, and then all of a sudden” — what did he say? — “you hitch up in some muddy creek.” Did he not also repeat us a speech to this effect, — “He felt sure that if they were converted they would walk uprightly and keep their bullocks out of their neighbor’s corn”? Occasional resorts to this system of surprise will keep an audience in a state of proper expectancy.

Next Spurgeon speaks of surprise. Sometimes preachers can preach with the predictable cadence of a familiar soundtrack.  The application, appeals to the unconverted, connections to Christ, and conclusions all come at the same time. Spurgeon, recounting a humorous story, reminds preachers to surprise their hearers.

I sat last year about this time on the beach at Mentone by the Mediterranean Sea. The waves were very gently rising and falling, for there is little or no tide, and the wind was still. The waves crept up languidly one after another, and I took little heed of them, though they were just at my feet. Suddenly, as if seized with a new passion, the sea sent up one far-reaching billow, which drenched me thoroughly. Quiet as I had been before, you can readily conceive how quickly I was on my, feet, and how speedily my day- dreaming ended. I observed to a ministering brother at my side, “This shows us how to preach, to wake people up we must astonish them with something they were not looking for.” Brethren, take them at unawares. Let your thunderbolt drop out of a clear sky. When all is calm and bright let the tempest rush up, and by contrast make its terrors all the greater.

Remember, however, that nothing will avail if you go to sleep yourself while you are preaching. Is that possible? Oh, possible! It is done every Sunday. Many ministers are more than half-asleep all through the sermon; indeed, they never were awake at any time, and probably never will be unless a cannon should be fired off near their ear: tame phrases, hackneyed expressions, and dreary monotones make the staple of their discourses, and they wonder that the people are so drowsy: I confess I do not.

When I read and consider these words I admit that I have something of a backstop that pushes back upon me. I don’t want to be pragmatic, calculating or manipulative. If I am giving so much thought to timing, tone, and choice of words, am I walking down the road of becoming what Paul warned against in 1 Cor. 1 & 2? I don’t think so. As I reason and think through this it is not pragmatic to try to be as helpful, clear, engaging, and vivid as we can be. Snapping people out of their drowsiness, whether induced by themselves or the sermon, is a service to them. As long as we remember that the power is in the Word of God and do not depend ultimately upon ourselves, the thoughtful measured use of variation can be a great tool in the preacher’s hand. In this, a service to their congregation. So brothers, “let your thunderbolt drop out of the sky!”

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Remember the Tragedies and the Triumphs of the Gospel

Nov 17, 2015 | Erik Raymond


Ministry in the life of the church is both a blessing and a heartache. There are surprising triumphs of grace and there are gut-wrenching rejections of it. We tend to want to focus on the one rather than the other. However, when we read the Apostle Paul we see that he actually focuses on both. In a letter aimed to encourage Timothy to be a faithful pastor who fans into flame his gifting (2 Tim. 1:6) and fulfills his ministry (2 Tim. 4:5) the intentional reference of the “good” and the “bad” must be seen as helpful tools for this aim.

Remember the Tragedies of the Gospel

In his second letter to Timothy the Apostle is trying to get the young, somewhat timid, and reluctant pastor to faithfully persevere. In each chapter however, he includes a monument of apostasy and / or disappointment (1:15, 2:17, 3:1-9, 4:10, 14). In the first chapter he references Phygelus and Hermogenes and their public apostasy. Along with them, all others in Asia turned away from him. This must have been tremendously discouraging for the Apostle. Yet, he points it out to Timothy.

In any case Paul saw the turning away of the Asian churches as more than a personal desertion; it was a disavowal of his apostolic authority. It must have seemed particularly tragic, because a few years previously, during Paul’s two and a half years’ residence in Ephesus, Luke says that ‘all the residents of Asia’ heard the word of the Lord and many believed (Acts 19:10). Now ‘all in Asia’ had turned away from him. The great awakening had been followed by a great defection. Stott, Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 45).

Paul is reminding Timothy not only of the reality of the situation on the ground but also of the importance of tending to his own soul. Timothy must be certain that he is all in for this work. He must take it seriously. It will be hard. People will leave. Your heart will be shredded. Welcome to ministry. Remember the tragedies of the gospel.

Remember the Triumphs of the Gospel

But he also includes very encouraging reports. Consider Onesiphorus who served Paul by searching for him, refreshing him, and not being ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:16). What a great story this is. Paul was abandoned and neglected. He was tattooed with the stigma of a fool and bound to be ostracized by society. Anyone who came to him would also be contaminated by the social stigma of being a fool. Timothy himself was dealing with being ashamed of Paul’s sufferings. Onesiphorus on the other hand pursued Paul, searching for him, and then when he found him he refreshed him. What is this if it is not a remarkable work of grace? This guy loved the gospel and the gospel workers even more than this present world. Little wonder the Apostle prayed for him and his family with such fondness (2 Tim. 1:16, 18).

Paul is doing more than simply updating Timothy with the status of various people. He is trying to promote faithfulness in ministry. He wants Timothy to do the requisite Word work (2 Tim. 1:13-14). He must hold on to the apostolic message and guard the truth of the gospel it is this, and only this, that will ensure that he fulfills his ministry. But, to do this he points out the tragedies and the triumphs of the gospel. He wants Timothy to smell both the spiritual road kill and the blooming flowers. It needs to be real for him. He must work tirelessly to prevent the first and promote the second. This is a good lesson for us as well. Faithfulness comes not just be seeing more faithfulness, sometimes it comes when we see faithlessness.

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What Do You Tell Your Kids About ISIS?

Nov 16, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Christian parents are called to help their children to think about, interact with, and evaluate current issues from a biblical perspective. Cultivating a Christian worldview is one of the main components of child training.

Over the last couple of years, as ISIS has been increasingly in the news, we have had a number discussions as a family about what has been happening. Our 6 children range from 4 to 20, so there needs to be thoughtful care given to the details of our discussion. However, it is quite near impossible to tame down the atrocities of ISIS to a general audience.


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A Good Word Makes Them Glad

Nov 13, 2015 | Erik Raymond


The burdens of people’s hearts are largely concealed from general view. Nevertheless they bulge from their souls like receipts from an overstuffed wallet. Much like receipts, credit cards, and punch-tickets, burdens are accumulated as we walk through the ordinary patterns of life. These are matters of personal, physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. Life hurts. This painful enduring mustn’t be minimized but instead optimized. There is a great Christian opportunity here.


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Judas Betrayed Jesus with Clean Feet

Nov 12, 2015 | Erik Raymond

foot washing

The story of Judas’ betrayal of the Lord Jesus is as familiar as it is troubling. There is nothing worse that he could have done in his life than to betray Jesus. When Jesus says that it would have been better for him not to even be born (Mark 14) we begin to see the significance of the action. It is the ultimate evil act to betray or attack the ultimate good one. The consideration of the whole series of events is flat-out disturbing.

One particular unsettling note to Judas’ departure from the Passover table is the timing. As Jesus was unpacking the various Christological and eschatological significance of the Passover meal Judas got up and left.

However, we know that just a short time before, perhaps after the first cup of wine, early in the Passover feast, our Lord washed his disciples feet (John 13).

The disciples were bickering about their greatness while Jesus was showcasing his greatness. Greatness always serves. It wears the apron (Mark 10.45; 1 Peter 5.5-6).

This serving, this washing of the feet included all of the disciples, even Judas.


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Marriage is Really About Companionship

Nov 11, 2015 | Erik Raymond

Many times in marriage the husband and wife become proficient at doing things apart. Slowly over time it becomes the norm to be alone and companionship becomes foreign. As a result, companionship, closeness, and even trust begin erode. Paul Trip has some sound words for marriages plagued by or beginning to be plagued by isolationism.

Marriage really is a human covenant of companionship. God wasn’t so much giving Adam a physical helper for the work in the garden as he was giving him a companion.

God knew that he had created a social being, and because of Adam’s social hardwiring, it was not good for him to live without the companionship of one made from him and made like him. You could argue that this is the most basic reason for marriage. God created a lifelong companion for Adam, and his relationship with Eve would exist on earth as a visible reminder of God’s love relationship with people and as the God-ordained means by which the earth would be populated as God designed.

So the character and quality of the friendship between a husband and wife always functions as an accurate measure of the health of their marriage. It is also an accurate barometer of trust. When trust is present between two people, their appreciation and affection will grow, and as these things grow, friendship flourishes. Tripp, What Did You Expect?

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